By Zoë Kaufmann
This year marks the 11th annual TriCo Film Fest; it also marks another year of the continuing success of Bryn Mawr’s Film Studies program, which offers classes across several departments and in which students can minor. I sat down to discuss the program’s history, present, and future with Professor Julien Suaudeau, who serves as the Director of Film Studies and a lecturer in the French and Francophone Studies department; he is also a filmmaker and novelist.
This discussion has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What makes the Bryn Mawr Film Studies program special?
What is really amazing about this program is that it doesn’t have a specific offering, except for the film production class or video production class that we offer almost every year. We don’t have the infrastructure to offer more film production classes as opposed to film studies, because Haverford and Swarthmore have a much better and much more adapted infrastructure with VCAM than we do here. We have cameras on loan that we can loan to the students and audio equipment, but no production studio per se, which is the case at Haverford and at Swarthmore.
What is really amazing is the transdisciplinary DNA of film studies. You have contributions from language departments, from other programs such as Visual Studies, History of Art; English is a big feeder of course, of course. And so there’s a lot to explore for our students, not just Bryn Mawr but also TriCo students or Villanova students. What I really like is that when Film Studies students—they don’t have to be minors—but when they look at the offerings across the TriCo, they can put the different classes that they wish to take in conversation with one another. When we talk specifically about the Film Studies minor at Bryn Mawr we really encourage them to explore beyond the European or Hollywood canon because what we offer and what we teach is really global cinema. That global element and the transdisciplinary nature of the offerings are really huge strengths and huge assets for the students, as well.
The architecture of the program allows the students who wish to explore film to really delve into the complexity, and the diversity of film as a field. I think our focus in who we are is more film studies. It could be film theory or film history, film analysis, content, comparative film, just like we talk about comparative literature. But through that lens, I think that we have a very coherent offering, because of the transdisciplinary organization and the fact that we are not a department but a program. I mean, it could be perceived as something that is a limit, but I don’t see it that way. It’s something that enriches the curriculum, and that benefits the students.
How is the program situated with regards to its position on the physical fringes of the film scene in Philly?
Yes, we are on the fringes, but we are very lucky to have the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, the host institution of the TriCo Film Festival. That movie theater is one of the nexuses of film in the Philly metro area, and it’s thriving, which is not the case for all film related organizations in Philly. So many theaters have closed.
The other problem is that there’s a very rapid turnover. Since the pandemic, films don’t stay long. The production and the film output slowed down a little bit, but now that we’re back to normal and film crews are working almost as they were before the pandemic, it’s almost as if the film venues can’t process that flow. And so the result, especially for foreign films, is that you will get a one week window to get to see a film, which is not enough. I don’t know how much the competition of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms affect the equation. But in Philly, per se the situation of film is not great from a spectator point of view.
Just to reinforce how lucky I think we are literally to have the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on our doorstep, and to be able to collaborate with them—they host the TriCo Film Festival. We have a very smooth and seamless collaboration with them, which I really treasure. So this is a very, very important partner for us. And again, I think it’s not the fringes. I think it’s not the epicenter, but one of the nexuses of film in Philadelphia.
How might you describe Philadelphia as a film city?
In terms of production and festivals, there are some that are of national importance—Blackstar is one of them. It’s not New York in terms of film locations, but I have seen a sort of slow growth of series and film shootings in recent years. Servant, the M. Night Shyamalan [show]–he’s always been a local, since The Sixth Sense. It’s almost annoying to me because I live in the neighborhood where they shoot it, and I have to find a parking space, and it’s very, very difficult whenever the film crew is there. But it’s bringing a lot of attention and is also creating jobs locally for people who are in the film industry.
What makes student film unique?
What makes it special is that you get to experience it through all the stages of production. It’s unique, again, from a viewer’s perspective, to have that privilege to bear witness to the filming itself, which could happen anywhere on campus or on the fringes of campus. To come in for the first screening and critique the first version of the of the film, and then if the film is curated, experience it with a real audience, as in any festival, for film students and those interested in film production, to have the possibility to experience all of that over the course of one or two semesters is amazing. Because it’s all about that. If they become film professionals later, they will only repeat that experience, hopefully on a larger scale. But everything is there from you know, just thinking that first part of “what story am I gonna tell?”, then putting it on paper, and then from script to film, and then all the post production and collective collaboration that is involved- where you interact with your peers, and they help you out. Those creative conversations really help you deliver the best possible film that you can with the material that you have.
The TriCo Film Festival is really the icing on the cake. It’s nice, especially after two years of doing it online, to go back to an in person- or to an in person event where it’s not about the competition and it’s not about awards. It’s nice to have awards because they recognize the individual value of these artworks, but it’s also a community and a shared experience on top of everything else. And even online last year, when we had to do it on Zoom, I was very impressed. Even though the event took place online, the connection and energy that was in those virtual rooms and the films of the students helped create was very heartwarming. The return to an in person event will just multiply the energy in the room, and I think it’s a nice way to wrap up the academic year. It’s also a way for us in the TriCo to say who we are: This is us. We’re students, we’re faculty, we’re staff, and our work is academic but it can also be creative.